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Occupational health and safety legislation varies from state to state, but Steven Brown gives us the low-down on the national requirements for OH&S, and tips for designing the workplace so that general and specific hazards can be eliminated or managed.

Active ImageDon’t wait until the worst happens, a serious or fatal accident. Employers must ensure the health and safety of employees and others working on their premises against a range of general hazards.

Under the various OH&S legislation specific to each state, Australian employers who fail to ensure the safety of employees face prosecution and potentially heavy penalties. The general types of workplace hazards are:

• mechanical hazards from using machinery, equipment and tools;

• movement hazards from manual handling, occupational overuse syndrome, slips, trips and falls;

• hazardous substances–biological, chemicals used at the workplace, passive smoking, dust and fibres;

• noise;

• electrical shocks;

• confined workspaces; and

• sexual harassment.

To guard against all hazards, employers must:

• provide and maintain safe systems of work;

• make arrangements for ensuring the safe use, handling, storage and transport of equipment and substances;

• provide necessary information, instruction, training and supervision;

• signpost the workplace for any dangers or risks (although the first priority should be to eliminate any risks);

• report all accidents and ‘near misses’ to the person with responsibility for this, and keep a record of all such incidents;

• comply with requirements for first aid at the workplace; and

• depending on the type of risks and hazards relevant to the workplace, ensure adherence to specific standards which employers are obliged by regulation to comply with.

To provide a safe system of work, employers must ensure that the design of jobs is appropriate to eliminate or at least minimise the risk of injury or illness. For example, consider the typical hazards associated with the typical jobs in three industries. By looking at these three industries—food, construction, and manufacturing—and the typical hazards associated, a methodology can be seen and adapted for assessing the risks and designing the jobs in your own industry.







Mechanical hazards: machinery, equipment and tools

stoves, knives, meat slicers, hot fat, blenders, boilers deep fryers, grills, and exhaust fans

ladders, concrete mixers, power tools, scaffolding, cranes forklifts,


lathes, presses, grinder, milling, machines, conveyors

Movement hazards: manual handling, occupational overuse syndrome, slips, trips and falls

transporting food into the kitchen, repetitive cutting, liquids or rubbish on the floor, risk of injury if an employee is working under the influence of alcohol or drugs

moving heavy equipment, repetitive actions such as hammering, objects and waste on the ground, risk of injury if an employee is working under the influence of alcohol or drugs

manual handling of raw materials and/or finished products, repetitive actions on processing lines, waste on the floor and risk of injury if an employee is working under the influence of alcohol or drugs

Hazardous substances: biological, chemicals used at the workplace, passive smoking, dust and fibres

passive smoking of serving staff in smoking areas of clubs and hotels, risk of disease from flour dust (in bread and pastry areas of food preparation)

risk of exposure to chemicals, and dust and fibres from drilling, planing, demolition of premises with asbestos

risk of exposure to any chemicals used in the manufacturing process


risk to those serving from loud music at the venue

risk from power tools, over exposure to noise not directly related to an employee’s job

risk from noisy manufacturing process or machinery

Electrical shocks

risk from electrical equipment near liquids and if equipment faulty

risk from electrical equipment near liquids and if equipment faulty

risk from electrical equipment near liquids and if equipment faulty

Confined workspaces

increased risk of injury

depends upon workspace, but increased risk of injury

not a high risk

Sexual harassment





Maintaining Safety

Active ImageTo ensure a safe system of work is maintained once provided, employers must design tasks to minimise the likelihood of an OH&S hazard. For example, some repetitive jobs have been associated with overuse injuries. Redesigning a job to increase the variety of tasks can avoid this. Job rotation can also assist.

You should also be consulting employees, reviewing current job designs, injury records, and the organisation’s workers’ compensation record with your insurer to identify any illness or injury trends that might be addressed by better job design. If design is an issue, consider consulting a specialist in workplace design.

It’s important to train employees in the proper way of carrying out jobs. For example, if employees are moving heavy or awkward objects, introduce manual handling training and consider whether any lifting devices could be introduced to make manual handling easier. Also, buy equipment that is the safest and quietest available, such as noise-reduced circular saw blades or silenced compressors.

Make sure hazardous areas, such as noisy areas or wet floor areas, are clearly marked so that workers can avoid entering them unnecessarily, and be sure to maintain plant and equipment so it is as safe as possible. Think about rostering workers to minimise exposure times in hazardous areas.

Once you have assessed the hazards and redesigned the way jobs are undertaken, employees need to consider whether any specific operating policies (SOPs) need to be introduced. Employers should consider introducing drug and alcohol and sexual harassment policy.

Case Study

Active ImageIn considering industry specific operating policies, we look at issues specific to the construction industry. In addition to the priority areas, there are specific areas of concern in this industry. Two are particularly relevant–safe movement of vehicles at workplaces, and cranes and mobile plant.

Vehicles and mobile plant moving in and around workplaces cause far too many occupational injuries and deaths in Australia. Reversing, loading, unloading, and pedestrian movements, are the activities most frequently linked to accidents. To avoid incidents, traffic and pedestrian movements need to be designed, planned and controlled.

Here are some tips for the safe movement of vehicles:

• Design traffic routes so they are wide enough
for the largest vehicle using them. They should be one-way (if possible) and have clearly signed traffic instructions.

• Separate pedestrian footpaths or walkways from traffic or make traffic routes wide enough for both vehicles and pedestrians. Use pedestrian barriers to prevent people walking in front of vehicles.

• Situate loading bays where vehicles can be manoeuvred easily and are protected from adverse weather conditions. Raised loading platforms should be fitted with rails and raised wheel-stop edges on the non-loading sides, to prevent people, forklifts or trolleys rolling over the edge.

• Mark reversing areas so drivers and pedestrians can see them easily. To reduce reversing accidents, place fixed mirrors at blind corners.

• Ensure that people directing traffic wear high-visibility clothing and their signals can be seen clearly.

Serious accidents have occurred when a worker has stepped between a mobile crane and its suspended load. The boom supports and hydraulics (often located in front of the crane driver’s cabin) can obscure the driver’s view. To avoid serious incidents, anyone working on the ground near the crane must be clear of trapping spaces between moving loads and fixed structures or machinery.

Taglines (useful for controlling awkward loads) should be provided as a standard part of a crane’s lifting equipment. Taglines should be used to tie back the load to the crane to reduce swing. Nobody should ever walk or stand between the suspended load and the crane wheels. To prevent injury, pre-warning bumpers should be attached to the front of all tractor cranes.

Although the OH&S legislation is not uniform throughout Australia, a basic approach to moving ahead in complying with your OH&S obligations is to introduce a systematic approach by making a commitment to improving safety management through consultation with employees; improving hazard management by carefully looking at the risks of the tasks involved and any specific industry issues; training and planning, so that you have the necessary resources and processes to ensure success.

*Steven Brown is the owner of Etienne Lawyers www.etiennelaw.com

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